Trevor Plouffe & Brett Lawrie Under the Radar

Take away the guys with shortstop eligibility, or second base eligibility. Take away the hurt third basemen that should have been stars if they were on the field more often. Take away the backups that accumulated enough time to be relevant. Take away the stars that played like stars. Take away the rookies that just came up and didn’t get full seasons.

Who’s left? By definition, they’re not stars. But they are starting veteran third basemen that stayed healthy and put enough numbers to be relevant. Could you define the under-rated player any better? Who else is less exciting to draft than that guy that’s going to hit for a middling average, with middling power, a few steals, possibly at the bottom of the order?

And, yet, Trevor Plouffe and Brett Lawrie were both above replacement level third basemen this year. Considering that many of the players above them had other eligibilities, they may have been good enough to start at third in many leagues.

Look at the bottom of the third-baseman rankings. How many of those guys would you play at other positions? Matt Duffy was a second baseman and a shortstop. Yunel Escobar was a shortstop. Danny Valencia was an outfielder. Justin Turner played at every infield position. Jung-ho Kang was a shortstop. Yangervis Solarte also played second.

Take away all of the players that would have played at other positions for most fantasy teams, and suddenly Plouffe was the 11th-best third baseman and Lawrie was 12th-best. On March sixth last year, the experts’ consensus had Lawrie 41st and Plouffe 37th. That’s a lot of return on investment right there.

As always, when we spot possible values like this going back, the instinct is to try and learn from this going forward. So, we define the value profile, and we look for it in others.

Why did nobody want these two third basemen? Because, perhaps, they don’t have the upside of other players. They don’t have standout tools or plus-plus projections in any one category. They’ve been around for a while without having a top season. They’re kind of blah, and they play in home parks that favor the pitcher.

Are there other third basemen like this going forward?

Evan Longoria comes to mind, and perhaps his stock has fallen so far that he will give you that sort of opportunity next year. At 33 next year, Martin Prado is a little older than Plouffe (29) and Lawrie (25) were this year.

How about Lonnie Chisenhall? He’s 27 right now, and plays in Cleveland, which favors pitchers. He hasn’t had a top season, and his best tool is perhaps his hit tool. He’s had flashes of good work, but overall has been blah. Right now, he’s the starter — maybe in a platoon, given the fact that he’s 17% worse than league average against lefties — in right field. And even if the Indians buy another starter, Chisenhall may help replace Brantley for the first month. That at least gives him a chance. His fantasy projections — .260 with 14 homers and four steals — are almost exactly what Lawrie did this year (.260/15/5). He won’t cost much on draft day.

Jake Lamb is 25, but so was Lawrie. His projections match Lawrie’s work this year almost exactly, too. Lamb plays in a hitter’s park, though, so he actually has more upside should he wrest control of third base for himself next year. He’s even shown more power in the minors and is headed into his power peak.

Going forward, if you’re going to choose between Lawrie and Plouffe, you’ll want to wait as long as possible. Plouffe might benefit from playing in a different park, and the Twins seem to be moving parts around. But you might choose Lawrie either way. He’s still pre-peak by definition, has more speed than Plouffe, and seemed to settle into second base late in the season. Of course, you’d be playing him at second base, but no value profile is perfect.

But, looking back, it seems that Brett Lawrie and Trevor Plouffe have taught us a valuable fantasy lesson. Maybe one we should have known before. In between the veteran stars and the hot prospects is a nice little niche that can provide cheap mid-tier value. The veteran with mid-level upside and bottom-tier pricing may not seem super exciting on draft day, but they might just be part of the reason you won your league when you look back next November.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Stars and OK Vets
6 years ago

I like the strategy and find myself scraping the bottom of the 3B value bin in my auction next year. I’ll be kkeping an eye on both, and unless a another manager makes a surprising move and tosses someone back I didn’t expect, I plan on paying as little as possible at the position and putting my money elsewhere. Once you get past the top 9 or ten, you are right, it’s just guys like this that are left.

Any insights into the Lawrie free swinging 2015? Completely different contact and sw str numbers than the rest of his career.